'Survivor' contestant Zeke Smith outed as transgender during tribal council

By Wade Sheridan   |   April 13, 2017 at 8:00 AM

April 13 (UPI) -- Survivor contestant Zeke Smith was outed as transgender by fellow competitor Jeff Varner during the tribal council meeting on Wednesday's episode of Game Changers.

Varner revealed the information about Smith in an attempt to save himself as he felt he was nearing elimination.

"There is deception here. Deceptions on levels, Jeff, that these guys don't even understand," Varner said to Survivor host Jeff Probst. "Why haven't you told anyone that you're transgender?" he continued while looking at Smith.

Following backlash from the other contestants for bringing up something personal, Varner defended himself by stating, "I argue for the rights of transgender people every day in the state of North Carolina. I would never say or do anything to hurt anyone here. Jeff, I'm arguing for my life. I feel like I've got to throw everything at the wall."

Varner was then voted off the island and shared a final hug with Smith.

Smith who is openly gay and previously appeared on Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, took to Twitter afterwards to comment on the outing, writing, "We cannot control the hazards we face, we can only control how we respond. Love each other."

Smith also commented on the moment while penning a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter writing, "In calling me deceptive, Varner invoked one of the most odious stereotypes of transgender people, a stereotype that is often used as an excuse for violence and even murder. In proclaiming 'Zeke is not the guy you think he is' and that 'there is deception on levels y'all don't understand,' Varner is saying that I'm not really a man and that simply living as my authentic self is a nefarious trick. In reality, by being Zeke the dude, I am being my most honest self — as is every other transgender person going about their daily lives."

"Forgiveness does not require friendship. Forgiveness does not require forgetting or excusing his actions. Forgiveness requires hope. Hope that he understands the injury he caused and does not inflict it upon others. Hope that whatever torments his soul will plague him no more," he continued. "I have hope for Jeff Varner. I just choose to hope from afar, thank you very much."

Varner offered an apology on Twitter with a statement that read, "Yep. I did that. And I offer my deepest, most heart-felt apologies to Zeke Smith, his friends and life allies, his family and to all those who my mistake hurt and offended. I recklessly revealed something I mistakenly believed everyone already knew. I was wrong and make no excuses for it. I own responsibility in what is the worst decision of my life."

"I am deeply saddened at what my mistake unleashed and I promise to use its lessons to do the right thing," he concluded.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Probst reacted to the moment calling it "one of the most raw and painful studies of human behavior that has ever happened on Survivor."

"[I was] very impressed with the compassion Zeke showed Varner," Probst added. "I found his ability to still find some level of humanity for someone who had just injured him so severely, maybe his crowning moment."

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